In the five years that the Handforth camp existed, there were four commandants in charge. The post tended to full to senior military personnel on the verge of retirement and thus coming to the end of long, often glorious, careers. With the army involved in fighting on all fronts, running an internment camp in rural Cheshire was presumably classed as a fairly quiet posting.
The camp’s first commandant was Major Hugh Charles Claude Ducat-Hamersley, who owned a substantial property – Pyrton Manor – in Oxfordshire. Ducat-Hamersley, a veteran of the 6th Gurkha Rifles, was relatively sprightly, aged only in his late 40s when he took charge of the camp. His interventions in camp affairs seem to have been few and far between. In early 1915, for example, he waded into a debate about the lack of winter clothing for prisoners, stating bluntly: “Clothing is only given to those prisoners of war who actually require it”.
Ducat-Hamersley’s stay as commandant was a short one. In April 1915, he was replaced by a Shrewsbury man, Major Kenney-Herbert. The new commandant, had reportedly “seen much active service” and was a veteran of the Boer War.
Some 18 months later – on 21 October 1916 – the camp received its third commandant: Major Henry Ernest Dauncey. Dauncey, a man in his mid-50s, was a member of the Dragoons and a veteran of the Boer War. Remaining in post until 1919, Dauncey came to be the commandant most associated with the camp and its prisoner population. The external inspection reports were always favourable towards Dauncey’s leadership and the prisoners themselves also seemed to respect his command. One post-war memoir from a former German POW praised all the commandants, but particularly Dauncey, for having “human sympathies with a sense of military understanding”.
Dauncey retired during the summer of 1919. His replacement – Lieutenant Colonel George Hamilton – had been Dauncey’s second in command over the previous two years. Hamilton’s main task, following his formal appointment in June 1919, was to prepare the camp for closure. A duty that he completed with aplomb.